Joan Libby Hawk, Studio Potter
Interpreting Clay, Color & Form
Artist, September 2015
Circa 1975, New York City
Crafts Fair, Columbia University, NYC, 1982
Paying dues: Upper West Side, Manhattan street fair, circa 1975
Portrait of the artist, New York City rooftop,
1976 MFA Exhibit, Stoneware Eggs
Working class roots supported branching out into writing, art and activism. The omnipresent 60's counter culture popped opened avenues to art. Both my parents worked. Neither had college educations. Intelligent, thoughtful, tough and incredibly motivated, they struggled to ensure that both daughters would be well educated and able to stand on their own. In me they envisioned a doctor or lawyer. My father died before I graduated with an English degree from Mount Holyoke College. My mother gradually accepted that this "professional" had the word "potter" as a title.
My husband and I moved to Oxford, England in 1972 and I began a self-directed course in all things art, reading voraciously the art history I never formally studied; auditing highly relevant courses such as the Mosaics at Ravenna, attending lectures on beloved authors like James Joyce, imposing on the Ruskin School of Art to take me in so I could freeze in the Ashmolean Museum cast gallery and learn to see and draw; and very importantly, to discover the Oxford Polytechnic (now a full-fledged University) a home to the working class Oxford and Headington kids. You knew you arrived there because the rock and roll music announced a different energy and sensibility. There I learned to work with clay and experience the suspense of firing stoneware in a gas kiln. The kindness of then strangers made this oddball adventure story possible.
Arriving back in Manhattan's very Upper West Side--124th and Broadway--my husband, David Hawk, and I scrambled to make a living, while retaining the indelible 60's imprint. He became the Executive Director of the then very small organization called Amnesty International, USA, which followed a number of prominent roles in the anti-Vietnam War movement and civil rights work. He has been working in human rights ever since.
Doesn't everyone want to work 60 hours a week for no pay with the opportunity of using someone's ceramic studio? You betcha. Soon after, I began to teach children and adults and sell some pots along the way. (It was the age of Aquarius, plant hangers and macrame after all.) Motivated by multiple challenges of form, interior space, texture, color and mystery nudged me early into pursuing special projects that combined technical challenge, abstraction, and maximizing the clay as three-dimensional canvas. A couple of years down the line, I found a spot or two for showing my work and to move things along, I applied to the City University of New York's MFA program. Plus, they had one of the only gas kilns in all of Gotham. Carefree, I walked uptown every day from 124th Street to 137th and Convent Avenue, greeting neighbors on brownstone stoops and vendors that I got to know. To support the art habit and pay tuition, I honed my communications and public relations skills, working for peace and human rights groups.
Family and friends gathered at the November 1976 opening of my MFA exhibit at the City University Graduate Center. Amazing: People bought nearly everything. It's important to have a fan base.
A child in tow, born June 4, 1977, ensured I had lots of company as I ran around New York City teaching, working in the studio between and around my son's daycare and naps and working as a consultant at home at night. Sleep is definitely overrated..
After spending nearly two years in Bangkok, Thailand from 1979 - 1981 while my husband concentrated on the plight of Khmer refugees fleeing Pol Pot's "Killing Fields", the return to New York City presented a turning point. Teaching and creating ceramics continued at the Riverside Church Arts & Crafts program, some exhibiting; selling and commissions provided encouragement. The answer to the question I always wondered but rarely articulated, "Why are there so few women artists?" became graphically clear.
Sometimes you have to move. Usually, you have to change. Fortunately, my writing and public relations part-time consulting enabled me to transition to a full-time job with, get this, health benefits and a secretary, in 1983. (Full disclosure: I was really, really mad about having to hang up my apron, put my wheel in a friend's basement and handover my tools.) For the next 30 so years, I worked in New York State government, for nonprofits working to help disadvantaged children and families, for the country's largest environmental group and for the United Nations to advance women's human rights and opportunities. We had a wonderful second child. This worker bee has been very lucky.
I continue to consult on women's rights and economic empowerment--check out Libby Hawk Associates to learn more. In 2014 I started to make serious space once more for art and clay. So, more than forty years since the 1972 beginning, clay and all its possibilities once again take center stage. Creating this site represents an announcement of sorts, not so unlike my MFA exhibit.
1976 MFA Exhibit, Graduated Bowls,Set of 12
1976 MFA Exhibit